Art Space: Laureate wants to bring poetry to the streets | March 20, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - March 20, 2009

Art Space: Laureate wants to bring poetry to the streets

by John A. Barry

The laurel was sacred to the god Apollo in ancient Greece and was used to form a crown or wreath of honor for poets and heroes. From this custom arose the term "poet laureate." The United States appointed its first poet laureate in 1937. But as is often the case, California was ahead of the feds, appointing its first in 1915. The current state poet laureate is Carol Muske-Dukes.

Now, in a growing trend, municipalities around the state, including Danville, are appointing their own laureates. Currently, there are 23 such poets, the majority of whom are located in the culturally superior northern part of the state. In December of last year, Danville named its first laureate, Nancy Fraze, who was among several poets applying for the post.

Although all opportunities have not yet been fully developed, Danville Poet Laureate will be writing and presenting poetry at the will of the Town Council for official events, as well as publishing and promoting poetry for the enjoyment of the community. Her term runs until June 2011.

An early assignment was to pen a piece for the mayoral installation in December. She wrote and presented, "Timeless Legacy." An excerpt:

This Town, our Town of Danville, belongs right now to folks just like you and me.

We came by birth, by marriage, by school location or by job transfer.

We've come here to live; to breathe, to love and work and play.

We're building a future and farming our today.

I recently sat down with Fraze at the Pioneer Gallery, where two of her poems accompany paintings in the gallery's ekphrasis exhibit. (Ekphrasis is a form of expression in which one type of art inspires another.)

"Rather than write a poem about this and that painting," says Fraze, "what if the two poems each told half of a story and the truth is somewhere between them. To get the whole story, you have to read both and then you're still left with questions about what the reality was."

One reality for Fraze is that she wants to "bring poetry out to the streets." And to libraries, restaurants, parks and town events - so that people will "find poetry in unexpected places."

"Poetry and creative arts have a way of getting underneath our defenses and touching our hearts," she says. "I want to touch peoples' hearts ... expose them to poetry. I just imagine poetry making things better."

Fraze is passionate about poetry. She started reading it in elementary school, scurrying to the dictionary when she encountered unfamiliar words. This budding poet wrote her first verse, "The Song of the Wind's Daughter," in sixth grade.

As influences, she named Edgar A. Guest, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "classic poets." She also mentioned her favorite book of verse, "Best Loved Poems of the American People," which her father sent to her mother from Europe during World War II. Nancy has that book to this day.

Laureates gathering in Livermore

Many of the state's poets laureate gathered March 7 at the Livermore Public Library to socialize and read some of their work. The library features a photo exhibit of the current and past poets laureate, which can be viewed at The exhibit runs through the end of the month.

Ongoing Exhibit

Art and Artists of the Valley, Museum of the San Ramon Valley, through May 30.

--John A. Barry is a writer and aspiring artist. To share anything art-related, call him at 314-9528 or e-mail